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How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  2,141 ratings  ·  214 reviews
In the 1980s and 1990s many in the West came to believe in the myth of an East-Asian economic miracle. Japan was going to dominate, then China. Countries were called “tigers” or “mini-dragons,” and were seen as not just development prodigies, but as a unified bloc, culturally and economically similar, and inexorably on the rise.

Joe Studwell has spent two decades as a
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Grove Press (first published March 1st 2013)
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Harsha Varma This is an easy read with very little jargon. The author provides a context for all the economies which helps us better understand the development…moreThis is an easy read with very little jargon. The author provides a context for all the economies which helps us better understand the development policies across these countries(less)

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This was excellent, very well organized and concisely argued. Basic point I think is that nations need to take control of their own economic and industrial narratives. The first part was eye opening for me, focusing on agricultural policy and land reform - effectively arguing that the first stage of development should be redistribution to encourage high density labor intensive farming as a means to employ workers and increase acreage yields, which improves the current account and creates a ...more
Dyan Canlas
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Highly stimulating. Very relevant with clear examples given and direct to the point. Influential read as I am part of an East Asian country, and seeing how we and neighboring countries operate is a bit disappointing and encouraging. There is room for improvement in the economies of South East nations, lots of it, but it will come from the people.

I barely knew economics concepts, but here I am trying to google the main points I take from the book. Very comprehensive and worthy read.
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia, gift
Really interesting book! This might be the only book I’ve ever read on macroeconomics, but it’s very well written and reads easily.

The book investigated and expounds the successful and not so successful economies of Eastern Asia, comparing why certain ones (Taiwan, S Korea, Japan) succeeded, while others (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand) never reached the same level of success. The author explains that a lot of the policies that made these and other industrialized countries successful are
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good
Kair Käsper
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to give this book 4 stars, because of the author's tendency to go into too much detail (for my liking). But I can't. This book broke a lot of what turned out to be misconceptions and it marvellously explains (in a Sapiens-kind-of-way) how countries like Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan have become economic powerhouses while Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia are trailing far behind, despite having roughly the same starting point. It's a well-researched and brilliantly argued blueprint ...more
Aaron Arnold
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The title makes a bold claim, but overall Studwell does an excellent job of condensing, comparing, and commenting on the development paths of almost all of the major northeast and southeast Asian economies from an elevated yet rigorous level. While space prevents him from discussing some of the most unique countries - I'm thinking mostly of North Korea and Vietnam as well as Singapore and Hong Kong, though surely Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea have their own interesting stories - ...more
Oliver Kim
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The rise of the east Asian economies, and the lifting of their six hundred million out of grinding poverty, is the central fact of the past hundred years. In scope, nothing else comes close.

In “How Asia Works”, Joe Studwell tells us how this seeming miracle was made possible: a three-step prescription of land reform, export-focused industrial policy, and financial repression. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and (most recently) mainland China have grown rich by following this formula; by ignoring it,
Alex O'Connor
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very informative and readable account of how Asia got to be where it is today through the lens of agriculture, manufacturing, and finance with particular emphasis on China. I learned a great deal from this book and recommend it highly.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
the least libertarian book

it's an _actual plan_ to go, uh, "from third world to first", and it makes sense, and it seems to work! it's politically hard, but it's not magic!

pretty much summarizes to: land reform & export discipline

this review elegantly reframes the book's policies: they are all about _directing toward positive externalities_ for development:
- land reform => higher productivity, larger tax & consumer base
- export discipline => making better and more advanced
Laurent Franckx
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I have read this book following the positive Twitter review by Noah Smith

I am now trying to find some points to add to what Noah Smith wrote on the subject but it's not easy to think of anything.

I should admit that while, reading the book, I often had the economists' reflex of asking myself: "well, right, this may be true in practice, but does it also in theory"? It's of course easy to make fun of this attitude, but it's actually a valid question: it's
Ben Khoo
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recipe for development success:

1. Land reform - Split land evenly. Don't let the cronies take control!
2. Manufacturing - Focus on exports, and being competitive overseas. Don't let the cronies take control!
3. Finance - A tool to accelerate industrialization, never a end in itself. Don't let the cronies take control!

Mix thoroughly. Let sit for 25 years.

While the title is how "Asia" works (actually it should be "How Asia Worked"), the book is really about Studwell's recipe of
Elena Zhukova
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone interested in Asia or in a more general question of economic development. The author is a bit repetitive with the core principles he has identified, but now I'm sure I'll remember them
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
tl;dr: long, highly academic, disorganized, incredibly well-researched and interesting. it fundamentally changed my opinions about economics.

deceptively short at 225 pages, this book is a highly academic dissection of the history of asian economics: the successful and unsuccessful. studwell discusses the historical backdrop of post ww2 asia and discussed how different countries approached their economies for the better/worse. his thesis is that government involvement is critical for a 3 step
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
"How Asia Works..." ("The book") comes highly recommended, garnering rave reviews from the likes of Bill Gates etc. The book more than merely lives up to the hype generated. Joe Studwell is more of a surgeon than an economist/journalist as he diagnoses the stumbling blocks, flexes out stimulants and prescribes suggestions that constitute the preserve of a select breed of North and South East Asian nations. Although not a policy prescription in the strictest and narrowest interpretations of the ...more
Joseph Luk
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Was skeptical at first and thought this book is going to be all about gossips like it was in the Asian Godfathers. I was pleasantly surprised how well Joe was able to articulate such a broad topic and fit that into one book. Obviously, one can go much deeper into each country, etc. but given he had to fit everything in a few hundred pages, I neither find the book too short or too long. Having spent most of my life in Hong Kong and having visited many countries in Asia, the book gave me a new ...more
Jingwei Shi
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
This book offers a deep and contrarian analysis of the economic development in Asia that changed the way I viewed countries' economic development. Although this book might not be completely correct, it does provoke deep reflection and question my beliefs. The only drawback is that the book is quite redundant and could better organized.
Eric Dowdle
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Very interesting history of Asian economic development, and lots of insights into what might help other areas/countries of the world develop. I'm not completely convinced by every nuance of the author's argument about the proper function of a wealthier economy, but the overall structure of the book is very a worthwhile read.

Spoiler: land/resource redistribution might be worth a long, long second look ;)
Alex Anderson
Jul 06, 2019 marked it as to-read
Jack Kinsella
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Radically changed my views on the assumed general value of free trade.
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is not about Asia at all but about developing countries. It does carry it's message on development very clearly. It presents empirical observations and evidence and doesn't over-philosophize about the observations made.
Anthony Nelson
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very valuable, against the conventional western wisdom, take on development in Asia. A little outdated but lots of good information.
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Compelling argument for the efficacy of a three-pronged approach to development. Book uses case studies of success stories in north-east Asia, contrasted with not-so-successful applications in south-east Asia, to make its point. These interwoven stories were, at times, difficult to follow - but I could have put more effort into following along.
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Studwell's book is a coherent, well-reasoned primer on the causes of economic growth and lack thereof in east Asia. Through careful historical analysis, the author has clearly disproved the myths propagated by experts on both sides of the left-right divide regarding the drivers of economic success. The author has clearly segregated the successes (S. Korea, Japan and Taiwan) from the middling performers (Malaysia, Thailand) and the complete failures (Indonesia and Philippines) - this distinction ...more
Miebara Jato
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Asian countries took the world by surprise. Their miraculous rise from third world to first world economies is an inspiration. But less known is the kind of reforms and policies these nations implemented, most of which were in many ways at variance with traditional economic ideas.

In this excellent book, Studwell highlighted concisely and persuasively that what works for development (going from poor to rich) is NOT the same as what works for rich countries. He was harshly critical of the IMF
GLinh Tran
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book and I would highly recommend anyone who are interested in Development/Economics/Public Policy to read this book. This book explained the successful platform of some Asian countries and explained why some failed. I totally agreed with Studwell about his point of the government decided whether the country would develop or not. I also learnt from the author why and how not all the advice from IMF/World Bank worked in Asia in general. This book absolutely provided me ...more
Nazri Awang
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book on how North Asia and South East Asia diverged since the past 50 years or so. In essence, there are three conditions for development success. 1. Household farming. 2. Export oriented manufacturing. 3. Closely controlled finance that supports these two sectors.

Surprisingly education, robust legal system and well-developed financial system are not pre-requisites to development success at the early stage. The author cites Philippines which had a good education system,
Chad Kohalyk
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Engaging writing with a novel argument.
Dhruv Goel
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book compares the development policies of the 20th century of two regions - North Asia (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) and South-East Asia (Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia). The focus is on how the former achieved rich country status and how the latter still lag behind even a mediumly rich country. The author has identified a set of three policies, which are extremely important at the start but become regressive later in the developmental path.

The economics and politics of the
"The End of History" once set the sentiment of the last century. Every countries and institutes are either westernized or on the way to being so because there are no alternative route.

The author debunks this over-stretched theory with empirical studies of north-east Asian countries - Japan, Korea, Taiwan and finally China.

He delivers two points clearly. Developed countries once adopted very protected and heavy-handed economic policies in its industrial infancy. They now love to prescribe
Jose Papo
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is an amazing study about the phenomena of how some Asian countries were able to grow so much and so fast. According to the book there are three main levers: The first is to maximize output from agriculture. The second is to direct investment and entrepreneurs towards manufacturing exports, because machines can easily be purchased on the world market. The third is to focus bank and finance capital on the fastest possible technology learning and high long-term profits and not on ...more
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“The easiest way to run developmentally efficient finance continues to be through a banking system, because it is banks that can most easily be pointed by governments at the projects necessary to agricultural and industrial development. Most obviously, banks respond to central bank guidance. They can be controlled via rediscounting loans for exports and for industrial upgrading, with the system policed through requirements for export letters of credit from the ultimate borrowers. The simplicity and bluntness of this mechanism makes it highly effective. Bond markets, and particularly stock markets, are harder for policymakers to control. The main reason is that it is difficult to oversee the way in which funds from bond and stock issues are used. It is, tellingly, the capacity of bank-based systems for enforcing development policies that makes entrepreneurs in developing countries lobby so hard for bond, and especially stock, markets to be expanded. These markets are their means to escape government control. It is the job of governments to resist entrepreneurs’ lobbying until basic developmental objectives have been achieved. Equally, independent central banks are not appropriate to developing countries until considerable economic progress has been made.” 1 likes
“What created the Canons, the Samsungs, the Acers and so on in Japan, Korea and Taiwan was the marriage of infant industry protection and market forces, involving (initially) subsidised exports and competition between manufacturers that vied for state support.” 1 likes
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